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The suicide rate in the United States increased in the months following the suicide of actor Robin Williams in 2014, according to new research.
Within 5 months after the death of Williams they recorded 1.841 l suicides above to average expected , representing an increase of 10% ,according to reports the magazine of the Public Library of Science of the USA (PLOS, for its acronym in English).
It can not be known with certainty if the death of Williams was responsible for this increase, although public health agencies are aware of the potential imitation risk that suicides of famous people usually cause among the population.
The experts of the study, however, point out that the “irresponsible” coverage of these cases in the media can have a clear influence on this “called effect”.
The “24-hour news cycle”
Williams, who starred in films such as “Patch Adams” and “Jumanji,” was found dead in August 2014 at his home in California.
At the time of his death, the NGO Samaritans – which works to reduce the rate of suicides – warned about the large number of news articles that gave too many details about the death of the actor, against the guidelines they believe should follow the media in these cases.
The recommendations of the World Health Organization and editorial media guidelines such as the British Independent Press Standards Organization or the BBC advise avoiding the publication of explicit details about the methods used in a suicide.
The researchers, however, said there is “substantial evidence” that many media outlets deviated from these guidelines .
Increase in cases
For the study just published, the experts analyzed the monthly suicide rates of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between January 1999 and December 2015.
The researchers found that there were 18,690 suicides between August and December 2014, compared to the 16,849 they expected to find.
In the weeks following Williams’ death there was a “drastic” increase in press reports that referred to suicides and deaths.
There were also more publications in an internet forum about suicide that the researchers were monitoring.
David Fink, one of the authors of the research and expert at Columbia University, said previous research had already shown that suicide rates increase after the suicide of a high-profile celebrity.
However, this is the first time that this type of studies is done in the era of the 24-hour news cycle .
“By seeing this person and relating to their experience, people assume the ability to perform this action that otherwise would not have been possible,” Fink told the BBC.
“That’s where the press comes in.”
“The more people listen and receive information about the specific details, the more they can potentially identify with them .”
The researchers said that during the same period of Williams’ death, another event may have occurred that might have the capacity to increase the suicide rate, but they saw it as “unlikely.”
In 2017, Netflix added an additional warning to the “13 Reason Why” series because of concerns that viewers could mimic their portrayal of suicide.
“This study is based on a solid body of evidence that shows that irresponsible or overly detailed representations of suicide can have a devastating impact , “ said Lorna Fraser, from the media area of the NGO Samaritans.
“In the case of celebrities, the potential for a person at risk to connect emotionally with them is greater, and in some cases, they can interpret that death as the claim that they could take their own lives,” he said.